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Federal Court Rules Environmental Protection Agency Violated the Law by Allowing Year-Round E15 Sales

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned a 2019 rule instituted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowing E15 gasoline, a 15 percent ethanol blend, to be sold year-round.

In the case, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers v. EPA, refiners sued to end the sale of E15 during summer months, saying it violated the 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA) and the law mandating ethanol be blended into gasoline.

Until 2019, the EPA consistently maintained E15 blend of gasoline resulted in high levels of vaporization contributing to summer air pollution, barring E15 from being sold during summer months.

In 2019, the EPA reversed itself, issuing a waiver for E15 summer sales, arguing E10 and E15 were substantially similar under the CAA.

Cites ‘Plain Text’

In a unanimous ruling, a three judge panel of the D.C. District Court, said EPA provided no compelling evidence that Congress, in the law mandating the blending of E10 into gasoline intended to alter the CAA provisions concerning vaporization or intended the law to allow E15 sales year round.

The opinion written by Judge Judith Rodgers for the court said the legislative history “is silent” on why Congress opted to use language specifically citing a 10 percent blend, and “the ambiguous history hardly suffices to overcome the plain text.”

The law was clear that E10, not E15, was approved for year around use, says, Chet Thompson APFM president, in a statement.

“We are glad the Court unanimously found that EPA lacks the authority to grant an RPV waiver to fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol, consistent with how EPA interpreted its authority for nearly 30 years prior,” Thompson said. “There is no ambiguity in statute, and the previous administration’s interpretation overstepped the will of Congress.”

Other E15 Problems

E15 is not a panacea for farmers or distillers, says Tom Randall, a principal at Winningreen, Inc., public policy organization focused on energy, agriculture, and the environment.

“The pursuit of E15 in the expectation it will lead to increased sales of corn ethanol could prove to be a chimera,” said Randall. “Already danger signs are visible for the future of corn ethanol: Some smaller producers have gone out of business, in part because of high corn prices, and others have switched to less-expensive sorghum.

“A greater threat comes from the push to replace the internal combustion engine with battery-powered electric vehicles,” said Randall. “By law, ethanol is blended into gasoline, and if gasoline disappears, so too will ethanol as a transportation fuel.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., (bcohen@nationalcenter.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.

Bonner R Cohen
Bonner R. Cohen is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a position he has held since 2002.

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